Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana has cropped up on the sound tracks of at least a dozen movies in the last 20 years, most notably as exhortations to battle in Excalibur and Glory. In writing what he described as “profane songs for singers and chorus, to be sung to the accompaniment of instruments and magical images” Orff was striving for a universality of expression, and he achieved it with simple bold strokes of line and color. His instrumentation, heavy on percussion and chorus, follows that of Stravinsky’s Les noces, another imaginative work stripped down to essentials and aiming for immediacy. Carmina Burana’s Latin text is taken from a collection of vulgar poems by 13th-century vagrant scholars and priests extolling carnal pleasures. Its blend of ribald cynicism and medieval mysticism is neatly matched by the music’s driving rhythms, sharp sonorities, and emphatic melodies. The work is Wagnerian without the intellectual piety and Stravinskyan without the cubist trimmings. Orff, who founded a school devoted to eurythmics (spiritual and physical betterment through dance and music), believed that with Carmina Burana–first staged as a ballet in Frankfurt in 1937–he’d created a total theatrical experience. Judge for yourself at this Chicago Symphony Orchestra revival featuring soprano Janet Williams, tenor Frank Lopardo, and Danish baritone Boje Skovhus. Zubin Mehta, who’s moonlighting across the Loop in Lyric Opera’s Siegfried, conducts. Friday, 8 PM, and Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bachrach/Axel Zeininger.